The excitement of LeBron James playing his first home game with the Los Angeles Lakers took a turn for the worst and ultimately became remembered for the brawl between veteran point guards Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul.
A chippy game between the Lakers and Houston Rockets boiled over late in the fourth quarter when Brandon Ingram was called for a foul on James Harden. Ingram was upset with the whistle, shoved Harden and confronted referee Jason Phillips.
That earned him a technical foul and led to Rondo and Paul coming nose-to-nose. Paul, which later became known was in response to allegedly being spit on, put his finger in Rondo’s face.
The Lakers point guard responded by punching Paul, and Ingram came from behind the three-point line to throw his own haymakers. Ingram (four games), Rondo (three) and Paul (two) were each suspended.
While the teams played two more games since the fracas, Rondo didn’t play last December because he was recovering from hand surgery, and Paul missed the most recent meeting due to a hamstring injury.
Thus, Thursday marks the first time the two point guards will see one another, though Paul maintains he’s moved on, per Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:
“There’s a lot of worse things that have happened since then,” said Paul, who missed 17 games with a hamstring injury just as Rondo missed 17 games following right hand surgery. “I forgot about it. Once the fine, write the check, move on.”
Lakers head coach Luke Walton offered a similar sentiment, dismissing the notion there will be any carryover. “This late in the season, both teams are more focused on more important things,” Walton said. “It’s not something that will take away from what we’re trying to get done.”
The Lakers can ill-afford to have any harboring resentment, as there is not only Rondo’s value to the team but their uphill battle to make the playoffs. The Lakers enter play trailing the Clippers by three games for the final spot in the Western Conference playoffs.
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